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Sununu Calls for More Aggressive Drug Enforcement, State Ban on 'Pink'

Casey McDermott, NHPR
Chris Sununu outlined his priorities for the state's drug crisis at thw Windham Police Department on Wednesday, joined by elected officials and law enforcement.

When it comes to fighting the drug crisis, Chris Sununu has said, broadly, that he wants to promote “aggressive” drug prevention education programs and to expand treatment availability for people struggling with addiction.

But this week Sununu called for more aggressive penalties and enforcement when it comes to drug trafficking.

“We need to send a signal to the drug traffickers that are going to bring these killers into our state that we are going to take them seriously and they are going to go to jail for long periods of time," Sununu said at a press conference Thursday. "We have to look at things like, do we need minimum sentencing? Are we actually instituting the right penalties?”

Sununu's opponent, Democrat Colin Van Ostern, put forward his own plan to combat the opioid crisis earlier this year. Van Ostern's plan includes an emphasis on more prevention and treatment, but also includes a call to make the state's Medicaid expansion permanent, which Sununu has said he opposes.

Sununu also called for an immediate ban on a new drug nicknamed "pink" (officially known as "U-47700") that's showing up, in small quantities, in the state. It has a similar chemical makeup to fentanyl and, according to the state medical examiner, can be six- to eight-times more potent than morphine.

"We have to start being proactive about this and instituting much harsher penalties to send a signal that New Hampshire isn’t going to be reactive, we are going to face this head on and going to take this challenge," Sununu said Thursday.

The state medical examiner’s office reports at least one person has died from the substance so far this year. State Drug Czar James Vara said he was aware of only one other instance in which the drug has shown up in samples at the state crime lab.

To Vara's knowledge, the drug is not being sold commercially in New Hampshire — in contrast with, for example, the potent forms of synthetic marijuana (or "spice") that surfaced several years ago and prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency because of the overdoses that resulted.

At this point, Vara said the state is waiting for further action from the federal government before moving forward with action of its own, citing the low levels of activity around the drug.

In many states, the drug has not yet been classified as an illegal substance. Last month, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration put out a notice that it planned to classify "pink" as a schedule I drug, alongside heroin, but has not yet issued a final order.

Once the federal government would issues a scheduling order, Vara says the state typically has 30 days to object or otherwise voice its position on the drug classification. If the state doesn't take a position, the drug will immediately be classified as recommended by the federal government.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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